Trump Administration to Weaken Workplace Discrimination Protections

A budget cut proposal from the Trump administration would significantly impact the government’s ability to protect America’s civil rights laws, according to more than 70 civil rights activist groups.

The proposal would merge the Labor Department’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) by the end of 2018. Prior to the merger, the OFCCP would take a 16 percent slash to its budget losing just over $17 million and lose 131 of its full time staff members. The EEOC is slated to lose 249 full-time employees before the merger.

The plan prompted 73 civil rights groups to sign an open letter to Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta and John Mulvaney, director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). Signers include the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Lambda Legal, NAACP, the National Council of La Raza and National LGBTQ Task Force.

Combining the agencies would “weaken the federal government’s ability to effectively enforce our nation’s civil rights laws,” according to the letter.

Further, the merger “isn’t about efficiency or saving money; it’s about making it more difficult for federal civil rights agencies to enforce the laws that promote equal opportunity and protect working people from discrimination.”

The two agencies also do not protect the same groups of people. The OFCCP protects on the basis of veteran status, whereas the EEOC does not list protected veterans under its umbrella of people it defends. And while the EEOC names sexual orientation and gender identity under its classes of protected people, court cases involving LGBT people have not always been seamless for the EEOC and remain “the subject of ongoing litigation.”

Logistically, the merger would pose problems because staff members in the two agencies are trained to perform different functions.

“OFCCP enforces rights beyond those that the EEOC enforces and its staff possesses extensive training and expertise in the procurement process that the EEOC staff does not have and would take years to develop,” the letter states.

Despite sharing similarities, the two agencies’ missions and the actions they take to complete them are not the same:

“OFCCP’s primary mission, unlike that of the EEOC, is to undertake systemic compliance reviews to identify hiring and wage discrimination and other forms of discrimination. By contrast, the EEOC only has the authority to investigate charges of discrimination, and in conducting its investigation of any particular charge, cannot request data about matters not raised by the charge. In particular, because applicants and employees are unlikely to know the reason they weren’t hired or how their wages compare to their coworkers, EEOC pursues relatively few charges of hiring or wage discrimination.”

Meanwhile, EEOC already has a reported 70,000 case backlog. Thinning its resources even further would only hinder the agency from making headway on these cases. And combining the EEOC’s workload with that of the OFCCP would only mean that minority populations are less likely to see justice in civil rights cases.

EEOC reported that new staff helped reduce the case backlog but that cuts to staff also had a negative impact, according to its financial analysis for FY 2016:

“Front-line staff hired late in fiscal year 2015 contributed to [an] increase in resolutions; however some of the increased productivity of new staff was offset by additional staff losses in fiscal year 2016.”

EEOC cites that a flat budget from FY 2015 to FY 2016 “made it challenging to fund certain mission needs.”

The move to merge the EEOC and OFCCP is “extremely troubling,” according to Emily Martin, general counsel and vice president for workplace justice forthe National Women’s Law Center.

“This is an attempt to really undercut civil rights enforcement and make it more difficult to protect people from discrimination,” Martin told Reveal News.

Cornell Brooks, president of NAACP, tweeted responding to the news of the EEOC-OFCCP merger as well as other civil justice programs being eliminated.

Democrats and Republicans alike have called President Trump’s proposed budget “dead on arrival,” so whether or not these sweeping changes will go into effect remains in question. However, even if no such changes come about, the initial speaks volumes to the administration’s priorities.

“Budgets reflect priorities. And while Trump’s budget stands little chance of being enacted, it’s amazing how much his proposal betrays the working-class Americans that he promised to help,” former Deputy Secretary of Labor Chris Lu previously told Bloomberg BNA.

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